For all the talk about patient-centered care and a new health care paradigm — which is, of course, the right way forward — the doctor-patient relationship will always remain relatively one-sided because of the nature of the profession itself. Essentially, patients come to doctors for help, and the knowledge transfer, advice, and guidance flows in one main direction.
But that doesn’t mean that doctors, who are among the most highly educated professionals out there, aren’t constantly learning and being inspired by their patients too. Go into any “doctors’ workroom” in a hospital, and you will hear these conversations taking place every day. The practice of medicine is a uniquely humbling profession.
Here are 5 things doctors learn from their patients all the time:
1. People are brave and have a remarkable capacity for resilience. Patients courageously put up with terrible illnesses and refuse to give up in the face of adversity. Whether we are talking about cancer, disabling cardiovascular disease or infections — our patients inspire us with their bravery and determination. How many times do we also see patients surrounded by their loved ones, still managing to laugh, smile and remain optimistic, despite the horrendous circumstances.
2. Family is everything. The way we see families come together during times of illness to support each other, reminds us through all the “background noise” that occurs during the hustle and bustle of daily life, that it’s really true that nothing whatsoever comes before family and loved ones. They are the only ones that matter and will support you during those bad times.
3. Things can change in an instant. Illness strikes out of the blue. One minute everything is okay and you seem not to have a care in the world (or what you cared about now seems trivial), and then everything is turned upside down by a shock diagnosis. It can happen to anyone.
4. What we do matters. The practice of medicine, for all its challenges, remains a very important and special profession. Doctors (and for that matter nurses) have the opportunity to do more good in one day than most people have in a month. It could be going back to see your patient again, comforting and consoling, or talking about something that is important to them. It’s easy for doctors to forget this as they churn through their patient lists, but patients remember and appreciate every nice interaction.
5 .Life is short. How many elderly patients talk to us about “wishing they were 50 years younger” or changing the way they did something years ago? If doing what we do doesn’t give us perspective and force us to get our priorities right — nothing will! It’s a cliché, but life really is short, and whatever we want to do, we owe it to ourselves to do and be happy. Enjoy the little things and have no regrets.
Health care will always be about personal relationships and be an emotional arena to work in. As Hippocrates himself said over two millennia ago, “It is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has”. It was true back then, and it’s still true. Every doctor has stories to tell about incredible patients they’ve met and been inspired by.
Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician and author of Thomas Jefferson: Lessons from a Secret Buddha and High Percentage Wellness Steps: Natural, Proven, Everyday Steps to Improve Your Health & Well-being. He blogs at his self-titled site, Suneel Dhand.
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